It’s a given that the student who has the highest GPA in school gets to be the valedictorian. However, when you are a black student, that’s not always the case, it seems.
An African-American woman in Mississippi filed a lawsuit against the Cleveland School District claiming her daughter was forced to share her valedictorian status with a white classmate who had a lower GPA than hers.
Jasmine Shepard had the highest results in her class — a first for a black person in Cleveland High School’s 110-year history, according to The Washington Post.
“Prior to 2016, all of Cleveland High School’s valedictorians were white,” the lawsuit said. “As a result of the school official’s unprecedented action of making an African-American student share the valedictorian award with a white student, the defendants discriminated against.”
This was the first time the school had two valedictorians.
Shepard was also forced to deliver her speech after the white student, but when she was told by the school she would have to walk behind the girl as well, she protested.
The student is angry with her school administration but does not want to see condemnation against the white student, whom she said is “the kindest-hearted, sweetest person.”
The attorney of the Cleveland School District called the lawsuit “frivolous,” stating the white student had the same GPA as Shepard.
However, Jasmine’s mother, Sherry Shepard, denied this and said it was a simple matter of calculating the classmate’s GPA and determining who had the highest.
“These children have been attending school with each other since middle school,” she said. “We know the schedule, we know what they take, and we have a good idea where the discrepancy lies. A child, when they earn honors, they are entitled to receive them.”
According to the infuriated mother, the school district (as well as the city itself) is rife with racial tensions. The town of Cleveland consists of 12,000 people, and many black and white families are separated by railroad tracks. In 2016, the U.S. District Court Judge Debra M. Brown ruled the district failed to desegregate schools despite a 50-year-old order to do so.
“The delay in desegregation has deprived generations of students of the constitutionally-guaranteed right of an integrated education,” the judge said. “Although no court order can right these wrongs, it is the duty of the district to ensure that not one more student suffers under this burden.”
The school tried to fight the decision but was forced to give up eventually.
Now, Shepard is demanding unspecified damages and asking to be correctly named “sole valedictorian.”
A Facebook page, Justice for Jasmine, has also been set up to fight for Shepard’s cause.
Gosh that was so unfair for herJust because of her skin, they were ashamed for her I say HAVE THE SCHOOL CLOSE DOWN!! #JusticeForJasmine— Maria Athena Yu (@MariaAthenaYu) July 1, 2017